Vintage globes can be a fascinating collectible item; they're not just nice to look at, they actually reflect what the world was like at the various points in history in which they were made. From the classic pastel-colored relief globes that were frequently used in schools in years past to more elaborate rotating floor models, there are vintage globes perfect for all price ranges and aesthetic tastes.
Early Globe Technology
What may be surprising to some is how long globes have actually been around. While it's unknown how or why the American myth about Christopher Columbus proving the Earth was round by sailing west from Europe to reach India was started, it's well-known that this mythology isn't the nexus for spherical mapping technology in human history. Rather, it's believed the spherical Earth concept goes as far back as 570 BCE, when ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras first hypothesized about this possibility. The theory took hold in ancient Greece, where later philosophers and universal truth seekers such as Plato and Aristotle offered scientific proof, such as the Earth's shadow being round during a lunar eclipse, thus leading to the development of a formal representation of the Earth's shape.
Celestial vs. Terrestrial Globes
The earliest globes date back as far as 1,000 years ago and were known as celestial globes, made for the purpose of tracking the stars and planets in the night sky. These celestial globes were vital for early nautical navigation. This star chart shifted into the terrestrial sphere sometime after, with the earliest known terrestrial globe that's still around today being made in 1492 in Nuremburg, Germany by cartographer Martin Behaim. During this time, it was still believed that the earth was the center of the universe as opposed to later beliefs of heliocentrism and then modern physics. Thanks to astronomers such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei and scientists like Isaac Newton, it was finally understood that our world revolved around the sun and that a force called gravity affected the movement of all heavenly bodies.
One of the biggest influences on terrestrial globes was Flemish mapmaker Gerardus Mercator. Mercator developed a type of map called a Mercator projection, which uses the lines of longitude and latitude to simplify map reading and help make navigating the globe easier. Although these maps have been replaced with more accurate projections, they once provided the basis for all of the globes of the past few hundred years.
Globe Manufacturing Between the 16th and 19th Centuries
The early European globe makers were educated cartographers and teachers, often hired by prestigious lordships, emperors, kings, or queens. Antique and vintage globes were painstakingly hand made with great attention to detail and were primarily made for the wealthy and powerful through this process of patronage. Thus, globes became a status symbol for upper-class households and people of importance as they were inextricably linked to their positions of power, wealth, and social clout.
Some of the developments in globe making throughout history include:
- 16th century globe manufacturing - During the 16th century, southern Germany became the center for globe manufacturing, becoming the first hub of its kind.
- 17th century globe manufacturing - By the 17th century, globe making had spread to countries like Holland, France and Italy, and globes were beginning to be bought by the merchant class.
- 18th century globe manufacturing - England followed close behind the continent and in 1810, James Wilson of Chicago became the first American to produce globes.
- 19th century globe manufacturing - It was during the latter half of the 19th century when globes finally started to become broadly available to the middle class. By this time, Chicago had become the U.S. leader in globe manufacturing, and it became a fashionable trend for men to carry a small pocket globe, similar to carrying a pocket watch.
With new technology in the manufacturing process, globes could now be mass produced. These three-dimensional maps of the Earth became commonplace as educational tools in schools, as fashionable decor for middle-class homes and miniature globes even became toys for kids.
How to Date a Globe Using the Globe Itself
Because globes were advertised as up-to-date, they were hardly ever stamped with a manufacturing date. The way collectors date vintage globes is by the geographical and political names and borders that it displays. Here are some examples of historical events that would help date the globes made before or after each event:
- 1867 - Russian territory becomes Alaska
- 1873 - Yellowstone becomes a national park
- 1899 - Philippines and Puerto Rico (U.S.) are established
- 1914 - Saint Petersburg in Russia named "Petrograd"
- 1919 - Treaty of Versailles in Europe; Polish Corridor, Balkan States, Czechoslovakia formed
- 1924 - Saint Petersburg in Russia called Leningrad
- 1930 - Constantinople becomes Istanbul
- 1949 - Germany is split into West and East Germany
- 1953 - Korea is divided into North and South Korea
- 1960- French Equatorial Africa (part), Oubangi, Chari dissolves and becomes Central African Republic
- 1976 - North and South Vietnam unify to become Vietnam
- 1991 - The Soviet Union is dissolved
- 1992 - Yugoslavia dissolves
Map Out These Great Deals on Vintage Globes
Interestingly, vintage globes are a unique collectible when it comes to the sellers and buyers market. Most average vintage globes, having been manufactured anywhere between the 1960s-1990s, just aren't worth that much money, averaging prices between $15-$40. Even the most pristine mid-century table-top examples aren't going to crest $50 in value. However, this doesn't mean that all vintage globes aren't worth money. In fact, some 20th century globes can sell for thousands of dollars, which probably feels insane to your inner child who used to slap haphazardly at their classroom's globe to see if it would spin right off the stand.
Vintage globes that're worth money tend to either be from the interwar period (1920s/1930s) or are made out of valuable materials. The first is because of their rarity and the unique glimpse they give into the past, and the second because of their craftsmanship. For example, spinning globes (the ones set into full-sized circular stands) are worth substantially more than regular desktop ones are, and above those are these spinning globes created with gemstones and beautiful inlays.
This contrast is particularly easy to see when a few recently sold vintage globes sale prices are shown together:
- Mid-century modern raised relief globe - Sold for around $144.99
- Vintage Alexander Kalifano mother of pearl standing globe - Sold for $799.95
- 1927 standing globe - Listed for $15,000
Where to Find Vintage Globes
The easiest and quickest way to find vintage globes to add to your home or office is to look for them online. A few of the best digital resources include:
- Antique Maps and Globes - This is the place to head to for all of your valuable and antique globe needs; they have all sorts of globes for sale, including rotating models, standing models, and rare globes.
- eBay - Per its reputation, eBay is one of the best online marketplaces to look for vintage collectibles. Unsurprisingly, they have a ton of vintage globes available; however, they mostly have lower-cost globes, so if you're looking for something on the higher-end, you'll want to look somewhere else.
- Etsy - Another great place to check out if you're looking to buy or sell a vintage globe online is Etsy. They have a really easy to use interface and a variety of sellers, making their inventory vast and ever-changing.
Check your local community for estate sales and yard sales where you might come across vintage globes as well. If you're interested in the value, you may be able to find low cost or free appraisals online.
Take a Spin Around the Vintage Marketplace
Travel the world from the comfort of your bedroom with a vintage globe. Whether you like yours backlit, brightly colored, and nostalgic or evoking a dark academia vibe, there're are a ton of vintage globes from around the world for you to pick from.